Rosenblum: And now a word about women, from women

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 22, 2012 - 9:51 PM

In a week that gave us binders full of women, "Romnesia" and throngs of Americans scrambling to Wikipedia to type in "Lilly Ledbetter," one group found the suddenly intense focus on women a bit peculiar. That group would be ...

Women.

"All of a sudden, boom-boom-boom, women's issues?" said Lisa Hedin, 48, of Denmark Township. "Who do they think was not voting?"

"I don't like being segmented," added Pam Pontzer, 55, of Hastings. "But culturally, we're still treated that way."

The suspicious segmenting by President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney obviously didn't come out of the blue.

"Two things happened," said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University in Washington, D.C.

"Surprisingly, during the first debate, there was no mention of women's issues or social-policy issues that are a way to play to women voters," Lawless said. The candidates "had some catching up to do."

Secondly, the gender gap closed after the first debate. Females, who have a long tradition of voting Democratic, "made it look like there was no gender gap," Lawless said. "President Obama needs a gender gap in order to be re-elected."

So there you go. I actually don't mind a discussion of women now and well into 2013, or 2020. But here are a few things anyone with a genuine interest in women might consider:

First, most issues are women's issues.

Reproductive choice, including support of Planned Parenthood, is at the top of my list, as is pay equity. But affordable college tuition and jobs for my kids, access to health care, an end to homelessness and human trafficking, support for veterans and peace in Libya also are important to me. Ask other women and I'm betting you'll get a similarly long and diverse list.

"Bodies are gender-specific, but otherwise we're all trolling along in the American culture," said Hedin, who serves on the Hastings school board.

"I'm buying groceries and gas at the same price as others," Hedin said. "My family members are choosing or not choosing to go into the military. The terminology is more about talking points."

And avoidance.

"Binders full of women? That is a huge distraction from the real question, which is who will really have the better fiscal policies," said Paula King, dean of the School of Business and Leadership at St. Catherine University.

But, speaking of binders, we have a lot of work to do in terms of promoting women leaders. It's true that women are moving into high positions in business and government, public safety, manufacturing and health care. But, King notes, the percentage of women on the boards of Minnesota's top 100 companies has stayed flat -- at 14.3 percent -- for three years.

"No progress. We're trying to set a bold goal of 20 percent by 2020," she said, with frustration.

Pay equity, or lack thereof, also frustrates her. "We may make 79 cents on the dollar, not 59 cents anymore," King said. "The irony is that these are the same conversations we had 25 years ago."

Lawless of American University makes the same point. She calls 2012 "The Year of Are You Kidding Me?"

"We should not still be having these conversations," she said.

Inequity is particularly troubling in politics. When women run for office, they are elected in equal numbers to men. But, due to the polarizing nature of today's debate, many aren't running, said Ember Reichgott Junge.

Junge served in the Minnesota Senate for 18 years and calls it "an opportunity to make an impact, to take the state forward, to affect people's lives."

Not so much today. "It would be much more difficult to serve today in the state legislature or Congress," she said. "In the 1980s and 1990s, we had a legislature that listened to different points of view. There was a bipartisan agreement on major issues. There's no middle today. That's one reason why women are not running."

The bummer is that women do lead differently, in a fashion well-suited to the 21st century. King, the St. Kate's dean, was in New York recently for a conference on "neuro-leadership," which found that styles used by women leaders "fit uncertain times.

"Women know how to collaborate, build relationships," King said. "It's very good to see it validated in brain research."

Lastly, fodder for great conversations comes from surprisingly introspective places.

Junge, a lifelong Democrat, notes "the irony that, until 2010, when Republicans took over the state Senate, five of the six top positions had never been filled by women. Republicans put women in those positions."

Pontzer confesses her frustration at women, all women, including herself. "My main concern is being able to be around [my children]," said Pontzer, a geologist who stepped out of the workforce to be home with her two children. "But I don't have that expectation of my husband. Why are we accepting this paradigm?" These conversations are more difficult to start, but potentially more productive. We should have more of them.

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